QUITO, Ecuador — OPEC ministers decided Saturday to keep oil output at current levels, citing ample inventories amid persisting global economic uncertainty and a price of just under $90 a barrel.
The 12-member cartel said after an unusually short meeting that it based its decision on projections showing demand for crude would grow more slowly in 2011 than this year.
Its statement also cited the "challenging risks to the fragile global economic recovery" including "fears of a second banking crisis in Europe."
The world's major industrialized nations continue to face "lower industrial output, lagging private consumption as well as persistently high unemployment," the ministers added.
"The market is in balance and is stable," oil minister Ali Naimi of Saudi Arabia, OPEC's biggest producer, told reporters. "The fundamentals are good."
OPEC's next scheduled gathering is June 2 in Vienna, its home. Asked whether it could convene earlier if prices were to shoot up, the group's secretary-general, Abdulla Salem El-Badri said that is always a possibility.
"OPEC is always ready to meet when there is important change in the market," he said.
There was much discussion about whether oil would soon broach the psychological price barrier of $100 — or even climb nearer its 2008 peak of $147 a barrel.
Venezuela's minister, Rafael Ramirez, said he thought such a price was "proper" considering how much producers invest in removing crude from the ground.
The "no-change" announcement was widely anticipated and four of the cartel's ministers — from Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar and Nigeria — did not even make the trip, sending lower-level delegates to this Andean capital.
OPEC, which is responsible for 35 percent of global oil production, has not changed its output quotas since late 2008. Last month, Naimi said prices from $70 to $90 per barrel were tolerable for consumers. On Saturday, he lowered the high end to $80.
The 50-year-old cartel has had a good year, with prices hovering in the mid-$80 range and profits up 32 percent over 2009 to $750 billion, according to U.S. Energy Department estimates. OPEC does not release profit numbers.
Oil reached a two-year high of nearly $91 on Tuesday — as traders gauged the dimensions of 2011 demand and responded to a particularly harsh onset of winter in Europe.
The Paris-based International Energy Agency said Friday that stronger-than-anticipated consumption next year in North America and emerging Asian economies led by China could compel OPEC to boost supply "if prices continue their relentless rise."